Intermittent fasting has established itself as a juggernaut in terms of the amount of weight loss it can bring about, but the majority of the times, people tend to look at things from one direction only. What does this mean?
The typical person desirous of starting intermittent fasting happens to be one who consumes both plant and animal-based products. However, do the same principles for the intermittent fasting diet hold true if you are vegan?
It’s not completely as straightforward as it may seem, especially when certain considerations are made. If you’re interested in vegan intermittent fasting this article is for you.
Muscle Loss Is Scary
The typical omnivorous human being gives little thought to losing muscle, simply because on an average day enough protein is consumed. Protein, if you recall, is broken down into amino acids which then become the building blocks that the body needs to repair damaged cellular structures or initiate muscle growth and recovery.
After a period of extended fasting, your body stands at a crossroad; on the one hand, it will quickly gobble up nutrition that is provided, but on the other if fasting persists much longer, it will start breaking down protein stores in the body (most often muscle) to find alternate fuel sources for sustenance.
As you can guess, the average person has no difficulty shutting down the catabolic urges of the body, but in vegans this can be very different.
Meeting protein requirements is typically one of the biggest challenges vegans face daily, owing to the limited number of plant-based foods that are either considered high in protein, or complete proteins altogether.
If you are a male vegan, this is even more difficult, as soy – one of the primary high-protein foods in a vegan’s arsenal – needs to be consumed in strict moderation. There’s nothing worse than fasting to improve body composition on the one hand, and then loading the body with high amounts of phytoestrogens on the other.
Phytoestrogens are plant based compounds which share structural similarities to human estradiol, and are able of eliciting effects that mimic the natural hormone. When men consume (or are exposed) to high levels of estrogens, testosterone levels may be adversely affected, not to mention that fact that sexual health will suffer. For this reason, men need to avoid excessive consumption of soy-based products even though it is a good source of protein.
So What Can You Do?
Take advantage of vegan protein powders. Female vegans can feel free to use soy protein in addition to others such as pea protein, hemp or Chia. If you are an athlete, be sure to consume at least 2 to 3 servings of these protein powders daily to help meet your daily requirements.
Shoot For The Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet
A major misconception many non-vegans have, and one which many current vegans with misplaced good intentions themselves have is the fact that as long as it is not animal-based, it is fair game. From a standpoint of dietary adherence this may be true, but consuming a large amount of “vegan approved” junk is not likely to promote weight loss.
A whole foods plant-based diet ensures that you are eating a significant amount of actual plant-based foods (typically raw or minimally prepared), and less of those that have undergone a measurable amount of processing. By doing this, you ensure that your diet is nutritionally fortified; plant-based diets are extremely rich in phytocompounds after all, and you do not inadvertently consume more calories than you plan to (sodium and sugars do affect your satiety and cravings).
Phytocompounds refer to the varied beneficial compounds produced by plants, which when consumed by humans are capable of improving your health. Take for example the carotenoids (which are related to Vitamin A) which can reduce the impact of cortisol on hunger, or catechins found in tea that have appetite suppressing properties. This, in addition to the coverage they offer when it comes to nutritional diversity means that as a vegan you are not likely to be deficient in many trace nutrients.
On another note, there really is no need to consume green juices if you’re eating enough of the whole foods as is. Juices will also not blunt your hunger, and you lose a ton of appetite suppressing fiber in the process.
Do Not Overdo Fruits
Are fruits bad? Not at all. However, all fruits are not created equal, as evidenced by differences in their glycemic index. The glycemic index of a food is a measure of how significantly consuming the food can affect blood glucose levels after consumption. For instance, glucose has an index of 100 (an arbitrarily assigned value), which makes it most significant in terms of speed and glucose spiking, whereas apples have a G.I. of 34.
Many fruits even have significantly higher G.I. values, meaning that consuming them, while technically good for you, will result in a massive blood glucose spike-something you do not want when attempting to lose weight. This is because every time blood glucose levels rise, in response, insulin is secreted into the blood. Insulin is just trying to do its job – shuttle glucose out of the blood and into storage cells (such as muscles and fat cells). However, while insulin levels are high, fat burning is suppressed. At this point in time, the body attempts to store surplus calories and will not prioritize fat loss. This is why controlling insulin is just as important and controlling carbohydrate intake to lose real weight.
Instead, the base and majority of the foods you consume should be vegetables which are rich in fiber and low in carbohydrates. Broccoli, spinach, avocadoes (excellent source of unsaturated fat), eggplant, and cabbages are ideal veggies to make the base of your diet, as well as many other leafy type vegetables. The ones that are carbohydrate rich, such as potatoes, are best reserved for meals consumed after your workout.
Be judicious about the amount of fruits you consume daily, ideally opting for one or two servings daily at a maximum.
Count Calories, Initially
You’re probably thinking “wait a second – why do I need to count calories?” Which makes you excellent at deduction my dear Watson. It is true that one of the major strengths of an intermittent fasting diet as a whole is the fact that you’re not tied into mundane calorie counting, but vegans need to take a slightly different approach.
If you had noticed, we said count calories initially. This is because the average whole food plant-based diet (sorry junk) is likely to fall short of daily caloric requirements on a normal day, and likely to only get worse when intermittent fasting is added to the mix.
Thus, when initially jumping headfirst into a vegan intermittent fasting protocol you are going to notice massive weight loss, but that this comes rapidly to a halt as soon as one week after starting. Why?
It has to do with restricting calories, too much, too fast. Even though you are likely to be consuming calories everyday (assuming you decide to follow the 16/8 protocol), your body still senses that calories are scarce and in turn activates starvation mode.
Subsequently, weight loss comes to a halt and further efforts to reduce calories only makes it hold on to its fat stores more tightly. From this point on, it is an uphill battle to lose weight and you are bound to fail altogether and wonder where you went wrong.
Don’t do this – for the first few weeks of fasting do count calories. This will ensure that you are not falling significantly below the number of calories your body requires to maintain its basal metabolism (BMR), and in turn you will experience consistent weight loss for a long time to come.
Vegan intermittent fasting stands at a unique place, where you are likely to lose weight faster than people who consume animal based products, but also one that has more traps set than for the average person.
Do not be misled by extremely rapid weight loss during the initial week or two of the diet, as things may unravel fast. A measured and consistent approach works best, ensuring that you also maintain fair caloric intake.
Top that up by fortifying your protein intake and you can pull off IF just as well as the next guy.